What is 'harm reduction?' Can it help reduce spread of COVID-19?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- "Harm reduction" is a set of strategies or principles aimed at trying to lessen risky behavior.

It's been used to reduce drug overdoses and slow the transmission of HIV, but can it help reduce the spread of COVID-19 during Thanksgiving weekend?

Whether it's the airport or shopping on Michigan Avenue, the latest COVID-19 surge is not keeping everyone at home, but people are listening and taking precautions for Thanksgiving.

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"We used to have a big get together, but now it's going to be on a smaller scale," said Zain Ahmad.

"Yes, we are absolutely staying at home. We are going to make duck for two of us, [and] I would not want to be out in jeopardy at my age," added Elizabeth Sacks.

"I usually sit at the table with my family for thanksgiving, but this year I'm going to Lakeshore Drive to ride my bike," said Roy White.

Smaller gatherings or wearing masks are examples of a philosophy called "harm reduction."

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"We see it every day, like putting on your seatbelt or wearing a condom," said Chicago Recovery Alliance Board President Erica Ernst. "Those are all harm reduction, they are not 100 %. You can still get injured or pass away in a car crash."

Ernst said the idea behind harm reduction is reducing the risk rather than completing eliminating it. It is the philosophy behind the HIV and drug public health crises.

"We know from evidence the 'just say no' didn't work. We also forced celibacy [which] doesn't work for most kids and young adults," Ernst said.

Operating under the premise that people will engage in behaviors that are risky, no matter what, or may not follow a government shutdown order, the state's top doctor said harm reduction is a better option than doing nothing at all.

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"I try to give the best ways that you can make a choice a little bit safer than maybe what you would be doing so, so yes, we are trying to utilize the harm reduction principal," Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.

So, even if you refuse to be completely homebound for the holidays, reducing the harm by following some of the protocols will help.
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